The Lion King – Review – Bradford Alhambra
By Sandra Callard, March 2022
What can be said that hasn’t been said before about this spectacular and world famous production of The Lion King. Now into its 25th year, and with no sign of losing its power, this unique and amazing show leaves the audience stunned and joyful as the heartfelt story and the superb animal creations take the theatregoer into a world of fantasy and beauty.
The huge stage of the Bradford Alhambra transforms into the African Pridelands as the elegant giraffes tread the stage with dignity and power. I lose track of the numerous animals who make their stately way across the stage, but they all contain the startlingly correct traits of their particular breed. It is a mind-blowing moment that has the packed house gasping in wonder and pleasure. This opening scene is probably the most evocative theatre moment I have ever witnessed on any stage previously, and my respect for the creation is boundless.
The story of The Lion King is so famous it needs no retelling, and the actors, most of whom carry around for almost three hours the somewhat cumbersome accoutrements of their particular animal, have to be hugely congratulated, as each one does their part with aplomb and pride. Even though you can clearly seen the mechanical workings of the animals, it has no effect on your total acceptance of each one of them. It seems that the creators have honed in on each particular element that the animal is known for, and brought it to glorious life.
The Lion King has elements of joy, sadness, brutality and comedy, all of which are portrayed with a clever understatement. The childhood scenes of Simba and his friend, Nala, are beautifully played by Amari James and Serenna Raphaella Hunte, with hints of the normal cheekiness and adventure which seem to lie with the lion young as they surely do with human children.
One of the great highlights of the show is the truly outstanding performance of Thandazile Soni as she plays Rafiki. More often than not played by a man, she is on stage throughout most of the production and has a long and active part to play. Rafiki is the the background teller of tales and the voice of sense when the bad things begin to happen. She always speaks the truth and her advice is sound and good, and the part is essential in guiding the stream of this very active production. Ms Soni’s performance has it all, as she brings home to the audience the reason why the Pridelands are essential to Africa, but also the growing threat to them. She is, by turn, hilariously funny, gentle with concern, and sings beautifully. The role is a basic and essential part of the production, and she plays it superbly.
“Full of wonder”
The grown-up Simba is played by Stephenson Ardern-Sodje, and for the most part he keeps to his happy runaway life, even after he is found and acknowledged as the Lion King. It is a strange little interlude as he debates whether he wants the power of the King, but he comes through in the end.
The two famous comedians of The Lion King are, of course, Timon and Pumbaa. The scatterbox pair of Meercat and Warthog are played brilliantly by Alan McHale as Timon, and Carl Sanderson as Pumbaa. They are both wonderful and the vast difference in their sizes adds to the fun, with Sanderson carrying the weighty costume of the warthog with hilarious acceptance.
Every element of the human existence is portrayed in the animal representations, and the evening is full of wonder, love and tears. The show has become a giant of theatre and it is well worth the journey, the money, or the hassle of getting there to experience it. Put simply, The Lion King is a magnificent night of theatre.
The Lion King is at Bradford Alhambra Theatre until 28th May